Archive for September, 2011

Saw these two movies recently, which have been critical and box office hits here in France. ‘La Guerre est déclarée’ (English title: ‘Declaration of War’) is about a young, fun-loving, happily co-habitating Parisian couple whose two-year old son is diagnosed with a rare form of brain cancer and then what happens, to him and to them. It is in fact the true story of the couple, Valérie Donzelli and Jérémie Elkaïm, who wrote and directed the film, and were its two lead actors. I usually avoid movies on these sorts of themes—I find them too painful—but this one was very good—absolutely worth seeing—and was thankfully devoid of sentimentality and pathos (that Hollywood would have been unable to resist).

Christophe Honoré’s ‘Les Bien-Aimés’ (in English: ‘The Beloved’) I appreciated somewhat less. As it was the closing pic at the last Cannes Film Festival it was reviewed in the Hollywood press, which was all over the place. These two critics gave it the thumbs up, this review was mixed, and this one panned it. I’m with the mixed.

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Mohamed Sifaoui on OBL

Mohamed Sifaoui, an Algerian journalist who lives in France—and who really, really doesn’t like Islamists—talks about Osama Bin Laden in this televised interview (in Arabic w/English subtitles).

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Turkey & Israel

I’ve been closely following the crisis in Turkish-Israeli relations over the past week, since the leak of the UN Palmer report on the 2010 Gaza flotilla and the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu’s surenchère is potentially dangerous—and the Turks are hardly blameless in the affair—but it seems clear that the main responsible party in the latest deterioration of relations between the two states is the Israelis, and notably the charming foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman and his associates. As Zvi Bar’el wrote in Haaretz

…Turkey’s demand that Israel apologize, compensate the victims and lift the Gaza blockade is rooted primarily in Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s obligation to his electorate. It has become a common, uniting, national denominator, an integral part of Turkey’s national prestige and its domestic policy.

The concept of national prestige has also trapped Israel, which on at least two occasions rejected a skillfully crafted apology to Turkey due to the objections of Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon.

Henri J. Barkey, in an excellent commentary on the The National Interest web site, likewise asserted that Lieberman “at every turn tried to prevent a negotiated outcome from being finalized.” Alon Liel, the director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry in Ehud Barak’s government, further explained the Israeli attitude

Our new diplomacy, which puts Israeli honor very high on our priority list, does not believe that it can maintain friendly relations with Muslim countries in the long run. The reason is very simple: this Israeli government has no concrete plans to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and consequently the Israel-Arab conflict. This is the sad truth behind the working assumption that real friendships with the Muslim world are practically impossible. This is the undeclared policy that has led to the latest rift in the Turkish-Israeli bilateral link.

Again, this thinking is no doubt driven by Lieberman & Co. And that Co., pour mémoire, includes deputy FM Danny Ayalon, who infamously humiliated the Turkish ambassador to Israel and for the TV cameras to boot. It is known that the Turkish foreign ministry—the diplomatic corps, if not Davutoğlu—has been supportive of Turkey’s erstwhile good relationship with Israel and has not favored the AKP’s move away from this—my source on this is this brilliant former Turkish diplomat—, which makes Ayalon’s arrogant act even more incomprehensible. The haughty Israeli attitude toward Turkey was expressed by the Israeli guest—who is associated with this right leaning think tank—in an Al Jazeera English debate on the issue earlier this week (some of his digs against the Turks were both gratuitous and irrelevant).

As for reasonable Israelis—i.e. those not associated with the current governing coalition—, there were calls for Israel—notably in this Haaretz editorial and op-ed by Shlomo Avineri—to swallow its pride, express regret for the deaths on the Mavi Marmara, and set up a compensation fund. But reasonable people are not running the show in Israel these days, hélas.

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In Bayonne NJ. A gift from the people of Russia to America, in memory of those killed on 9/11 and “to the struggle against world terrorism.” It was dedicated on September 11, 2006. Bill Clinton gave the keynote speech and Vladimir Putin came for a groundbreaking ceremony four days later. This seems to have gone almost entirely unnoticed. I knew nothing about it myself. See here and here.

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East Jerusalemites

WINEP has an issue brief, “What Do the Arabs of East Jerusalem Really Want?,” on a public opinion survey with a sample of 1,039 persons. It’s well worth reading. Will be interested in the reactions to it (if there are any).

UPDATE: The +972 Blog has a post by Riman Barakat of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information, entitled “Quietly, East Jerusalem Palestinians acquiring Israeli citizenship.” (May 20, 2012)

2nd UPDATE: Haaretz has an article on “Palestinian Zionism”, on the increasing numbers of East Jerusalemites who are applying for Israeli citizenship and seeking to integrate themselves into the country’s life and institutions. (September 4, 2012)

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Obama’s jobs plan

[updates below]

Paul Krugman gives it the thumbs up, so I do too. I’ve said it once and will say it again: when it comes to economic policy I let my man Paul Krugman do the thinking for me. He’s smarter than I am and we’re on the same page politically and economically, so why waste time reading other, contrary viewpoints?

UPDATE: John Judis says that “Barack Obama gave the best speech of his presidency” last night, and that it was an “angry, direct, and eloquent defense of government.” Good. About time he came out swinging.

2nd UPDATE: Dean Baker has an analysis of the Obama jobs plan. He says there are things in it to love, and things to hate. (September 15)

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Hass on Hamas

Amira Hass, who knows Gaza rather well, has a column in Haaretz on why the “Hamas regime needs the Gaza blockade.” The key passage

The prohibitions [on high school students traveling to the US] and Hamas’ deterrent tactics must not be taken lightly just because the number of people affected is small. The nature of prohibitions is that they increase in volume as they roll down the slope called “rule.” Hamas believes it has the right to intervene in parents’ choices for their children’s educational future. It believes it has the right to limit national and societal activity that is not based on its religious axioms.

These prohibitions are woven tightly into the Hamas regime’s logic. Hamas, which is not threatened by elections, builds its own separate political-religious entity. The closer the government in Ramallah gets to the UN vote on accepting “Palestine” as a member, the more Hamas stresses the independence of the Gaza Strip under its rule.

In this way the Hamas government provides an alibi for Israel to mendaciously claim that it is no longer an occupier. Hamas needs a blockade to regulate from within so that the subjects of “independent Gaza” will be exposed as little as possible to different realities and will not question its policies. Hamas needs the blockade and needs Gaza to be cut off from the rest of Palestinian society to ensure the continuation of its regime.

I haven’t been hearing too much lately about the Fatah-Hamas unity deal, BTW. And the various useful idiots who have called upon the US and Europeans to engage with Hamas have become less insistent. Tant mieux.

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Dahlia Scheindlin, who writes for the progressive Israeli webzine +972, had a column the other day on the heckling of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra in London last week by BDS activists and how this “spews hatred, not solutions.” She begins

For the record: I cannot stand the disruption of public speeches, forums, performances and events by hecklers. There’s something about the screaming face of the heckler, the flapping arms and confused camera angles trying to find the source, that I find repulsive. I hate watching the discomfort of the speaker, performer, or politician, I hate the audience’s non-comprehending wonder or its shame on behalf of the performers.

I don’t think I risk any street cred; my active opposition to Israeli policies are open and available for anyone to read. I often try to ground my arguments in sober analysis – sorry if it gets boring sometimes – so that rational people who don’t agree with me might consider listening.

And I feel that the hecklers undo all of our work.

Absolutely. I have a lifelong hatred of hecklers and a strong desire to punch the SOBs in the face whenever confronted with them. Hecklers are despicable, miserable lowlifes. Whenever I read about hecklers I think back to the 2005 referendum campaign in France over the European Constitutional Treaty, of a small rally I attended of the oui de gauche at the town hall in Sèvres, with Jack Lang and Daniel Cohn-Bendit the featured speakers. The audience was older and middle class. The event was disrupted throughout by two loutish, hard leftist hecklers opposed to the Treaty, particularly during Cohn-Bendit’s talk (French hard leftists have a visceral hatred of Cohn-Bendit, who is viewed as some kind of traitor to leftism; personally, I think he’s great). What was striking was that no one did anything for the longest time, until finally a male in authority escorted the hecklers to the door. I attended rallies of all four currents during the campaign: oui de gauche, non de gauche, oui de droite, non de droite, i.e. of supporters and opponents of the Treaty on both halves of the political spectrum. This was the only one that was disrupted.

The hecklers of course knew that all they risked was being led outside. Hecklers are cowards, choosing to disrupt only events attended by staid, politically mainstream, and/or mostly older audiences. E.g. the week after the oui de gauche event, I attended a rally of the non de gauche in Créteil—which has a more populaire demographic than upscale Sèvres—, with around two hundred in attendance. It was the petit peuple de gauche in all its splendor: working-class public employees, CGT and FO activists, Communist and Trotskyist militants, and other sundry hard leftists. It was a horror show, with each speaker seemingly trying to outdo the other in demagoguery and mendacity. If there were supporters of the Treaty in the audience, they knew well not to show it (and certainly not if they spoke with an English, German, Scandinavian, or eastern European accent, let alone an American; that would not have been a good idea). And if a supporter of the Treaty had started to heckle, I guarantee that rather than being escorted out of the hall he (or even she) would have been immediately set upon by members of the audience and subjected to bodily harm. Can one imagine what would happen if pro-Israel hecklers tried to disrupt a BDS rally? Hah!

In re to the above photo, it is of pro-Palestinian hecklers trying to shout down a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at UC-Irvine last year. The punks should have been expelled from the university illico (were they? I rather doubt it). The below photo is of members of the audience enraged by the hecklers. I would have been with them, you may be sure of that.

But lest one think I’m only into bashing pro-Palestinian hecklers, here’s one of Ligue de Défense Juive (French JDL) hooligans breaking up a pro-Palestine public meeting at the mairie of Paris’ 14th arrondissement this past May (and whose action was defended by this right-wing Zionist group). The title of the event: “Palestine: a popular non-violent resistance” (co-sponsored by the venerable Ligue des Droits de l’Homme, founded during the Dreyfus Affair). One of the speakers I know personally. If I’d been there I’d have been strongly tempted to go into action against the LDJ goons.

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And real ones. In June I had a post on “cognitive maps” in Israel-Palestine, which received the most hits of any post since I launched the blog five months ago. Today’s New York Times has an article on the same theme, on the “elusive line [that] defines lives in Israel and the West Bank.” It begins

For decades Israel has tried to erase from public consciousness the Green Line, the pre-1967 boundary with the West Bank at the heart of stalled negotiations for a Palestinian state.

Israel has built on either side of the Green Line and deleted it from textbooks and weather maps. Israeli drivers plying the main Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway crisscross the unmarked line at the Latrun Interchange every second of the day, slicing through half a mile of West Bank territory and several more miles of no man’s land, oblivious to the area’s fraught history.

In Jerusalem, where Israel annexed the eastern part of the city and its holy sites after the 1967 war, a new light rail system traverses a patchwork of Jewish and Palestinian neighborhoods, gliding blithely across the invisible boundaries.

Yet a recent journey along the line, from the northernmost Jalama checkpoint to the tiny villages of Al Ghuwein and Sansana in the arid hills of the south, shows that despite attempts to blur it physically, Israel has carefully preserved the line in legal and administrative terms, and it defines lives on both sides.

In the June post I wrote that I was convinced that a significant number of Israelis in West Bank settlements were not entirely aware that they were living in occupied territory, at least when they first moved there. The NYT article gives one such example

For many Israelis, being near or just over the Green Line is a matter of little consequence — so much so that some Israelis are not always sure which side they are on. By contrast, Palestinians living near the line are mindful of every inch of soil.

In the late 1990s, four idealists from the Tel Aviv area approached Ariel Sharon, then a government minister, with the idea of establishing a new community on the sandy dunes of Halutza in the Negev Desert, in southern Israel. Mr. Sharon sent them to a former army base called Sansana in the Negev. Like the forests that Israel planted there, the abandoned barracks hugged the Israeli side of the Green Line. But according to Eliram Azulai, 34, the secretary of Sansana, it soon transpired that the plan was to expand the village into the West Bank.

Mr. Azulai and his neighbors, many of whom are doctors or work in high-technology industries, unwittingly became settlers as Sansana grew to incorporate an adjacent West Bank hilltop. Mr. Azulai said that at the time “nobody asked questions.” Being sent to live on the Green Line, or across it, he said, “was not an issue.”

It’s an issue now, that’s for sure.

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Voici un entretien très intéressant avec Jean-Pierre Filiu—l’un des meilleurs spécialistes français du monde arabo-musulman—dans Rue89. Son nouveau livre (ci-dessus) va sortir cette semaine. Je ne tarderai pas à le lire.

MISE À JOUR: Je l’ai lu. Bof. C’est un livre grand public. Une bonne introduction pour les non-spécialistes. Ceux qui connaissent déjà le monde arabe n’apprendront pas grand-chose. (22 novembre)

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Mike Lofgren, an ex-Republican Congressional staffer of almost thirty years, has a devastating broadside against his former party, which he recently left in manifest disgust and horror. Some choice passages from the beginning

Both [the Democratic and Republican] parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot… But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP. To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics…

Lofgren is not tender with the Democrats—and rightly so—and states that he is not a supporter of Obama, but makes clear that the contemporary GOP is indeed what Paul Krugman has called “the Party of Crazy.” His piece is long (6000+ words) but absolutely worth reading to the end (here it is again).

CORRECTION: I got the Krugman quote above slightly wrong. He did not precisely call the Republicans “the Party of Crazy” but rather, in reference to the GOP, wrote about “waking up and smelling the crazy.” La même chose, en effet.

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Il y a une excellente tribune dans Le Monde par l’anthropologue américain John R. Bowen, sur la démagogie anti-islam et anti-musulmane en France. Bowen est l’auteur de deux livres sur l’islam en France—l’un qui vient de sortir en France, l’autre non-traduit en français—et connait évidemment très bien le sujet.

Halte à la démagogie électorale anti-islam !

LEMONDE | 31.08.11 | 14h16

A l’approche de l’élection présidentielle, il n’est plus étonnant de voir que les discours – devrait-on dire les dérapages ? – stigmatisant les musulmans de France se fassent entendre. Cela n’en est pas moins lamentable.

Le ton a été donné par Marine Le Pen, qui, en décembre 2010, dénonçait le fait que (more…)

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BDS: going too far

The disruption of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra concert in London on Thursday by BDS activists has gotten a fair amount of coverage in the news. The BDSers have gone too far with this one. Daily Telegraph columnist Brendan O’Neill says that “there is something very ugly about this attempt to ghettoise Israeli musicians”

Last night’s protest at the Proms against the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra represented a new low in anti-Israel agitation. It confirmed that everything and everyone connected with Israel is now looked upon by certain – mostly middle-class – radicals as toxic, diseased, a potential pollutant which must be kept out of decent Britain, perhaps by passing anti-Israeli quarantine laws. Not content with refusing to buy evil Israeli products and refusing to engage with evil Israeli academics, the anti-Israel lobby now wants to prevent people from hearing music played by evil Israeli musicians. They won’t be happy until everything Israeli – whether it’s fruit, books, ideas, visiting politicians or sweet, sweet music – is expelled from the UK.

No matter how much activists try to present this as a political campaign, designed to challenge Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, there is no doubting its visceral component. Modern-day Israel-bashers bring to mind those loopy people who claim to suffer from Chemical Sensitivity Disorder and who thus never wear deodorant or perfume or certain kinds of clothing and only eat organic foodstuffs lest they get poisoned by pesticides. Only middle-class radicals suffer from what we might call Israel Sensitivity Disorder, where they fight tooth and nail to ensure that they – and the whole of Britain – are never subjected to any idea or item that has its origins in poisonous Israel.

This has gone way beyond a normal political boycott, of the kind used by radicals in the past to put economic or political pressure on a section of the authorities. Rather, the aversion to everything Israeli has become a weird way of life for some people, where the aim is not so much to achieve any political goals as it is to achieve an inner sensation of super moral smugness. They treat Israel as a uniquely evil, fantastically wicked nation, the most evil nation on Earth in fact, if not in human history, whose every product and thought must be kept at bay. There is a deeply censorious streak in all this. In refusing to engage with Israeli academics and now trying to shut up Israeli musicians, anti-Israel protesters undermine academic and artistic freedom – they stand in the way of the free exchange of ideas and even of music between peoples and nations. Their attempt to shut up the Israeli Phil was especially shocking, since the sound being made by that orchestra did not even contain any ideas, only beauty. Mashing together philistinism with high levels of that trendy malady, Israel Intolerance, these protesters sought to prevent the playing of music purely on the basis of who was playing it – people from Israel.

The great and terrible irony is that anti-Israel activists claim to be fighting against Israel’s imposition of an apartheid system in the Middle East, yet they themselves practise a kind of cultural apartheid against Israel, demanding the expulsion from polite European society of everything that originates in that country. The end result is the cultural ghettoisation of Israeli thinkers, artists and musicians. Perhaps the Israeli Phil should only play behind tall brick walls, so that the rest of us no longer have to hear their apparently political, oppressive music. As it happens, I am opposed to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and I wholeheartedly support Palestinians’ right to determine their own national and political affairs. But since when has that also meant having to develop an allergy to the people and the many wonderful things that emanate from Israel.

Amen. I hate the Israeli occupation of the West Bank as much as the next man or woman but do not hate Israel as a consequence and refuse to boycott it. I don’t boycott countries, period, and even if I did I would not boycott Israel, a nation for which I have a certain admiration, despite its many problems and failings (if there are any nations out there that don’t have problems or failings, I’d like to know about them). If individuals want to boycott Israeli products in the supermarket, that’s their personal choice. I don’t care about it. I am, however, hostile to any suggestion of boycotting culture or academia. If someone exhorts me to boycott Israeli movies or scholarly lectures, I will impolitely tell him or her to f*** off. I have more to say about the BDS enterprise, which I argue is a futile waste of time and destined to fail. I will do so at the opportune moment.

UPDATE: Ynet News has an op-ed on the exaggerated claims of the BDSers.

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Libertarianism & fascism

[update below]

Michael Lind has a great piece on why right-wing libertarians apologized for fascism during the first half of the 20th century and have supported right-wing authoritarian regimes since. He concludes

The dread of democracy by libertarians and classical liberals is justified. Libertarianism really is incompatible with democracy. Most libertarians have made it clear which of the two they prefer. The only question that remains to be settled is why anyone should pay attention to libertarians.

This is obvious to anyone with any knowledge of history. The right-wing conception of liberty is economic—in the way the right defines economic liberty—, not political. Struggles for the expansion of the suffrage, from the 19th century to the present, were led by the left and resisted by the right. The American right was completely absent in the 1960s civil rights movement. Et on en passe.

UPDATE: On the subject of libertarianism, the TNR web site has an article entitled “A Libertarian’s Lament: Why Ron Paul Is an Embarrassment to the Creed” (September 2). See also the interesting piece linked to in Benjamin H.’s comment below.

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Obama a shoo-in?

I’ve come across several items in the past two days on American University professor Allan Lichtman‘s prediction that President Obama will easily win re-election next year, based on Lichtman’s famous, apparently rock-solid model for predicting presidential election outcomes (see here, here, here, and here). I may be a disappointed, disabused liberal-lefty like countless others but still hope he’s right, as I really don’t want to think about a Perry Administration (I could possibly deal with a Romney one but not really, and certainly not if the GOP controlled Congress). As it happens, while browsing in this fine bookstore in Santa Cruz CA last week I came across Lichtman’s White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement, which came out in 2008. I hadn’t heard of it and as it looked interesting and had a plug on the cover by Robert Kagan—a conservative intellectual I respect (yes, there are a few)—I decided to buy it. Read part of it on the long flights home from SFO to CDG. It’s more a political history than an intellectual one (for the latter, the best book I’ve read on the subject is George H. Nash’s The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, which was first published in 1976). Among other things, it shows that the American right was as crazy sixty years ago as it is today, but that countervailing forces—notably the labor movement—were stronger back then. Though I haven’t finished the book I recommend it. It’s relevant, that’s for sure.

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